I returned recently from another one of my hurried trips, this one to the New England states. All of them. Plus New York for good measure. Those of you who followed Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew that already. The rest of the 12MC audience may not have noticed anything at all. I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and they posted automatically, quite happily, as I cruised backcountry roads for a week.
Once again, I chauffeured my favorite runner through small town America as part of a Mainly Marathons event, this time to the New England Series. This group catered specifically to people hoping to run marathons or half-marathons in all 50 U.S. States (my favorite runner focused on half-marathons), stringing together back-to-back races. The 2016 New England series stopped at Sanford, Maine; Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts; Coventry, Rhode Island; Simsbury, Connecticut; and New Paltz, New York, on succeeding days, May 15-21. A race happened at dawn, then the circus packed up and moved on to the next state, and the cycle repeated itself. Seven races, seven states, seven days.
This was the fourth time I’ve attended a Mainly Marathons series, with my runner completing the Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation series previously. That was a lot of states. With New England now done, I’ve attended their races in obscure corners of 23 different states. Recently the Mainly Marathons group added a five kilometre option mostly for those of us who attended along with the longer-distance runners. I actually ran the 5K each day mostly so I wouldn’t stand next to the snack table for a couple of hours and stuff myself silly. I don’t have any intention of moving up to the half-marathon or marathon distances though. 5K each day was plenty enough for me.
We made time, as usual, for touring during the afternoon as we traveled between races. I’ll get into all of the details in the next batch of articles. I thought I’d start things off more scattershot with a few signs I noticed along the way. I’ve had a thing for unusual signs and this trip was no different. Ordinarily I’d present these at the end of a series although I thought I’d use them to whet the 12MC appetite. Think of today as an appetizer.
Welcome to Vermont
Surprisingly, I stopped at only one state border to record my crossing. This one occurred on U.S. Route 5 / Vermont Route 11 just after we passed the Connecticut River, as we left New Hampshire (map). This photo was particularly notable for my lack of skills as I managed to capture the top of the side-view mirror at the bottom of the image. That happened because I was too lazy to get out of the car when we stopped, and too incompetent to hold a camera high enough to get a decent picture. That was also the only photo I took of the car, now as I considered it, although I probably should have taken more. We rented a compact car because it was just the two of us. We figured it would be fine and we’d save some gas money. The rental agency must have given away all of the compacts on the lot though, because we ended up with a black, two-door Ford Mustang with only 500 miles on the odometer. We cruised around New England for a week in a sweet ride.
Think of the Children
I still wasn’t sure why the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, Vermont (map) felt it was necessary to ask us politely with a please and a thank you to think about our children in ALL CAPS. So I thought of the children. Unfortunately my only thought was a sign invoking the overworn and pandering expression "Think of the Children."
While fixated on thinking of the children, or so I thought, I began to notice strange minivan school buses in multiple New England states. I’d never seen anything like them before. Were they used by private schools with far-flung pupils? Or for select children in special programs? I could definitely consider a role for these non-bus buses, and wondered if this was a common solution in New England (or elsewhere) or if I’d focused on them simply because they were unusual. I spotted this example on Interstate 91 near Deerfield, Massachusetts (map).
Also, before anyone becomes too concerned with my driving skills and posts a disapproving comment, let it be known that my passenger took this photograph. I kept both hands on the wheel and maintained a safe distance.
I’ve often featured street names on 12MC, the more unusual the better. Generally I’ve only observed them on a map. That’s why I was so pleased to find Marginal Way in Sanford, Maine in the wild (map). It was right on the race course! Runners actually plodded directly down Marginal Way. I wondered about the name. How should a homeowner feel about property considered marginal? Would it affect its resale value? It ran along the edge — maybe the margin? — of a nearby pond. Was that how it earned its weird designation?
This was an instance where I thought a sign might be overkill. Certainly people have jumped from bridges, although generally very high ones and often quite tragically. That wouldn’t be the case here at the Henniker Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire (map), only a few feet above the water. This was a covered bridge of recent vintage constructed as a pedestrian pathway over the Contoocook River. It served as a footpath between the main campus of New England College and various athletic fields.
College students do seem to get into all kinds of antics. Maybe the sign was necessary after all.
The driving force, the entire premise of this series, were races held in different states. Travel distances ranked higher in important than sightseeing for most participants. As a result, races generally fell within rural, out-of-the-way places near state borders. Sometimes this took us onto America’s Byways, for example the beautiful Connecticut River Byway extending through several states including this spot in Northfield, Massachusetts (map). We ended up putting a little over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) on that Mustang, many of them on winding country roads through quiet scenery.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled across the existence of an entire genre of structural design known as Rock Cut Architecture, described in the previous article. I could hardly contain my glee although there was still a lot of work to be done. There were so many examples from widely varied parts of the world that I couldn’t fit them all into a single article. That made this follow-on post necessary, with additional illustrations from several more nations.
Ellora Caves, India
Great Kailasa From Above by Craig Moe on Flickr (cc)
India became such an epicenter for buildings and rooms carved from stone that it had its own distinct subcategory, Indian Rock Cut Architecture. It wasn’t just one culture or religion either. Followers of several beliefs and faiths practiced and perfected this art. These structures rose in numerous places. One of the best was the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
A Hindu Structure known as Cave 16 or the Kailasa temple (map) was particularly impressive. This massive structure unfolded on multiple levels, so large and complex that it had to be carved from the top down. It dated to the reign of Krishna I in the Eight Century.
Yungang Grottoes, China
Yungang Grottoes by Olga on Flickr (cc)
Sites featuring rock cut architecture in India were often called Caves by English speakers, and in China they were Grottoes. I didn’t know why. I simply observed that China placed a close second to India in terms of rock cut prevalence and impressiveness. There were several expansive sites, notably the Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province (map). These were Buddhist structures from the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. Buddhism moved north from India as did a penchant for rock cut architecture. At Yungang, devotees carved more than 250 openings and 50,000 statues into the Wuzhou Shan mountains, "a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art."
Vardzia Monastery, Georgia
Vardzia by Tony Bowden on Flickr (cc)
Vardzia in Georgia (map) represented an instance of carving into stone for protection as much using it as a convenient building material.
In desperate circumstances people are often driven to perform feats of mythical proportions. In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, the most devastating force Europe had ever seen. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185, and the digging began, carving into the side of the Erusheli mountain, located in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza.
Once completed, the Vardzia Monastery contained multiple levels and thousands of rooms, stretching over a half kilometre of mountainside. Invaders weren’t a problem although natural forces took a heavy toll. An earthquake caused many of the cells to collapse after only a century.
Coober Pedy, Australia
Underground House at Coober Pedy by Matthew Klein on Flickr (cc)
The popularity of rock-cut architecture faded many centuries ago. The technique was incredibly labor intensive. In the meantime, other building techniques and materials continued to improve. Nonetheless, this distinctive style survive into the modern era although generally during unusual circumstances such as those found at Coober Pedy in South Australia (map).
Coober Pedy was one of those places that probably had no reason to exist except that it happened to sit atop enough gemstones to crown itself "Opal Capital of the World." Otherwise it was a harsh desert climate not particularly conducive to civilization. For one, there weren’t any local material available to build anything to shelter those who mined for opals. However, the surrounding bedrock was perfect for digging into so local inhabitants did just that and created what were known as dugouts. People simply carved into hillsides.
The early Coober Pedy dugouts were indeed the holes that had been dug in search for opal. Today opal mining in the town area of Coober Pedy is not allowed any more. But hey, you can always renovate or expand, Need another shelf? Dig a hole in the wall. Shelf not big enough for the new stereo? Dig a bit deeper. A walk in robe? Dig a big hole. Another bed room? Not a problem! And always the off chance of finding some opal… In reality nobody digs by hand any more. Any new building work is done by modern tunneling machines.
Many homes and businesses in the area were created as dugouts, as were two churches, one Catholic and the other Serbian Orthodox. Residents of these structures also benefited from a constant comfortable temperature. Whether the desert at the surface hit scorching hot or freezing cold, it always remained nice underground. Rock cut architecture might not be an optimal choice in most places today although it seemed to be a great solution for Coober Pedy.
Architectural styles sometimes make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle, with Pueblo Deco and Egyptian Revival coming quickly to mind. I stumbled across another noteworthy example recently. I considered structures I’d wondered about before, carved directly from their stony landscapes. I didn’t realize that it had a name though, Rock Cut Architecture. This style came to prominence during ancient times although it continued to exist even during the present in isolated instances. Many ancient cultures from all parts of the world carved buildings from stone during its heyday. I picked a few favorites to explore further for this and a follow-on article.
It seems like I’ve done a lot of multi-part articles lately. I’m not so sure that’s become truly a "thing" on 12MC as much as it’s a reflection of encountering a number of topics with an overabundance of material lately.
ad-Deir, Petra, Jordan by yeowatzup on Flickr (cc)
Petra was the classic example and probably the place that most people knew about (map). It certainly made appearances in popular culture including movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Those were rather trite references though. The real deal was much more impressive.
Classic structures within the complex including Al Deir ("The Monastery") and Al Khazneh ("The Treasury") dating back to about the time of Christ. Petra, then known as Raqmu, was a trading center for a civilization of Arabs called the Nabataeans. Camel caravans traveled across deserts from faraway places to this important crossroads. The people of the Nabataean kingdom made their city there, "half-built, half-carved into the rock" and "surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges." That was a mighty fine place until the Roman emperor Trajan conquered Nabataea in the first century. Eventually it became lost to the Western world until "rediscovered" in the Nineteenth Century. Now it’s the most important tourist site in Jordan.
Lalibela by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk on Flickr (cc)
It was actually Lalibela that brought this topic to my mind as I took a walk the other day (map). I used to go to an Ethiopian restaurant called Lalibela and I wondered whatever happened to it, which took me down a mental tangent to the holy city of the same name. Bedrock plains formed a canvas for Lalibela, made of an unusual and highly porous form of limestone called tufa. "The metabolism of algae, bacteria and mosses is important for tufa formation due to consumption of CO2 (causing CaCO3 [calcium carbonate] supersaturation)."
Unlike many other places with Rock Cut Architecture, structures at Lalibela such as the Church of St. George (Biete Ghiorgis) weren’t cut from the side of mountains, they were cut directly from the ground. Structures here dated to the Middle Ages.
In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645 km from Addis Ababa, eleven medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a "New Jerusalem", after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land.
It remained one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, still a gathering point for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians even today.
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Temple of Ramesses II by Don McCrady on Flickr (cc)
The temples at Abu Simbel went way back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II who commissioned these structures circa 1250 BC (map). He meant to send a message, a symbol of his power at the far southern fringes of his empire. These magnificent structures carved into cliffs along the Nile River confronted all who passed, a grandeur that could not be replicated by any other civilization of the time.
Abu Simbel continued to impress in modern times. The site had been lost beneath desert sands for centuries, completely forgotten until about two hundred years ago when they were uncovered once again. More recently, in the 1960’s, Egypt built the Aswan Dam and created Lake Nassar. This offered many benefits to a desert nation including flood control on the fickle Nile, water for irrigation, and abundant hydroelectric power. It also would have drowned Abu Simbel below the surface of the lake. Instead, the Egyptian government lovingly moved the structures uphill and reconstructed them piece-by-piece into artificial hillsides specially constructed for this purpose.
Göreme by David on Flickr (cc)
Structures at Göreme arose in a much more haphazard fashion (map). The local landscape contained geological features known as hoodoos or "fairy chimneys" caused by erosion. People first moved into the area prior to 1000 BC, possibly for safety. This area of Turkey traded hands frequently as empires rose and fell. The inhospitable hoodoo formations repelled outsiders while offering attractive formations for local inhabitants to dig into and build their homes, businesses and places of worship. The town continues to have a population of about 2,000 residents.